Coburg RV Plant Hiring Workers

by Wendy on November 13, 2013

By Sherri Buri McDonald at The Register-Guard

Marathon Coach Inc., a luxury motor coach maker, plans to add more than 25 employees to its 125-¬person workforce in the next six months, company officials said Friday, an about-face from the layoffs and plant closures the local recreational vehicle industry has suffered in recent years.

“The RV business, like a lot of other industries, has been struggling,” said Steve Schoellhorn, president and owner of the 30-year-old privately held company. “But we’re turning a corner and increasing production.”

Schoellhorn said he decided it was the right time to add workers because the low inventory of finished new luxury coaches on the market has created pent-up demand, and customers appear to be more optimistic about the economy.

He said he doesn’t anticipate returning to Marathon’s 2006 peak production of 70 new coaches a year. But, since the recession, the company has become leaner and more efficient so “we can be more successful at a lower level of production,” Schoellhorn said.

Marathon buys bus shells from Prevost Car Inc. of Canada and converts them into high-end motor coaches with price tags of more than $2 million.

The coaches, which Schoellhorn calls the “Ferrari of RVs,” appeal to well-heeled individuals, including celebrities and retired business owners.

Marathon projects $10 million in additional new bus conversions next year, and annual sales of more than $45 million in 2014.

The 25 hires, mostly production and support positions, won’t move Marathon’s employment much closer to its 2008 peak of 400 employees. Nor will they budge the needle much for employment in Lane County’s transportation equipment manufacturing sector.

But after the recession that decimated Oregon’s RV manufacturing industry, it’s noteworthy that Marathon is hiring again, said Brian Rooney, labor economist with the state Employment Department.

Before the recession, Lane County was a center for high-end motor home manufacturing, with Marathon Coach, Monaco Coach and Country Coach all churning out luxury coaches.

Monaco and Country Coach both filed for bankruptcy and emerged on a much smaller scale — Country Coach as a sales and service center and Monaco as a tiny division of Navistar International. In May, Allied Specialty Vehicles Inc., Fleetwood RV’s parent, bought much of Navistar’s RV business.

Lane County’s transportation equipment manufacturing sector employed 500 people in August — the latest figures available — down from a peak of 4,600 in 2005, according to state Employment Department figures.

Transportation equipment manufacturing is mostly RV manufacturing, but includes some boat and bicycle manufacturing, Rooney said.

Before the recession, Lane County’s RV industry was expected to flourish as a growing number of retirees sought out recreation and leisure activities, Rooney said.

A recent uptick in retirements is helping to boost employment in leisure and hospitality, and it might also help RV manufacturing, but it’s unclear whether much of that manufacturing will return to Lane County, he said.

Bradley Waring, executive director of the Oregon RV Alliance, said Lane County has emerged from the recession as a center for RV sales and service rather than a manufacturing hub. “We retained so much of the … expertise and knowledge from years of building all those coaches that there’s an enormous service base that goes (from) Junction City through Eugene,” he said.

“Owners of the vehicles that were acquired here over the years still regard this as their primary service location.”

Dealers and RV parks also are seeing an upswing in business, Waring said.

Nationally, the RV industry is turning up. Manufacturers of all types of RVs shipped 285,749 units to dealers in 2012, up 13.2 percent from the previous year, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association.

The association forecasts an additional gain of 7.5 percent this year, spokesman Kevin Broom said.

Over the past couple of years, RV manufacturers across the country have started to hire again, he said.

“The RV industry is going to ship more than 300,000 units for the first time since the recession,” Broom said. “As the industry comes back, companies are ramping up production and hiring more workers.”

Marathon is at the high end of an industry where the average RV sells for $25,000 to $50,000, he said.

The Type A, or luxury, motor home market that Marathon competes in took a huge hit during the recession.

Back in 2007, 32,900 Type A motor homes were shipped. That dropped to 5,900 in 2009. It rose to 14,582 in 2012 and is expected to increase to 16,300 this year, Broom said.

At Marathon, Schoellhorn is thrilled to be hiring again.

Although hundreds of skilled RV workers shifted into other industries or left the area, Schoellhorn doesn’t anticipate any problem finding qualified workers.

“We are confident that between perhaps former Marathon employees and other skilled craftspeople that we’ll fill those positions,” he said.

In a June 2012 study of Oregon RV workers after the recession, Rooney found that 11.7 percent stayed in RV manufacturing and 13.8 percent went into other manufacturing jobs.

“Largely, the people that we could track stayed in manufacturing or took a lesser position at a temporary firm or in retail trade,” he said. “A lot of those we couldn’t track moved out of state or remained unemployed after four years. Generally between the third quarter of 2007 and the third quarter of 2011, they took jobs that paid less.”

Marathon employs about 100 people in Coburg and 25 at service centers in Florida and Texas. It has produced more than 1,200 custom coaches since the company was founded in 1983. It has a 150,000-square-foot facility off Interstate 5 in Coburg.

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